For the last two pandemic winters, influenza quietly slept while COVID-19 and its many mutations raged heading into the holiday season.
Now, the sleepy giant known as flu has awakened into a monster.
Currently, the flu is ravaging Virginia and now accounts for about 40% of all hospitalizations, according to the University of Virginia.
In a joint statement Monday from the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association and the Virginia Department of Health, Virginia doctors, hospitals and other health care providers are already being inundated with a surge of sick patients seeking care, filling hospital beds and in many cases requiring longer hospital stays.
“At Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital we are seeing an increase in flu cases, which is following state and regional patterns,” Nicole Dockery, vice president, chief nursing officer, told the Gazette. “If they haven’t done so already, we strongly encourage our community members to get their flu shot as soon as possible. Vaccinations provide protection not only for the individual but for our community.”
Compounding the issue, there are increasing numbers of Respiratory Syncytial Virus — commonly known as RSV — cases. That virus can cause serious illness and hospitalization in children and older adults.
The worry is if the trend continues, some health care systems in Virginia could be strained.
Data from Virginia hospitals and public health surveillance information from the Virginia Department of Health suggest that the commonwealth faces the prospect of a particularly challenging flu and respiratory disease season throughout this fall and winter, the joint news release stated.
“Emergency department and urgent care clinic visits involving patient diagnoses of RSV have quadrupled since early September and remain significantly elevated,” officials wrote Monday. “Visits for flu-like illness are also rising — for the week ending Nov. 5, such visits are at least four times higher than in the same week for each of the past four years.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Virginia is one of five states in the highest possible level for flu spread.
In just a week, there’s been a 41% increase in flu-like illness.
This is all happening while COVID-19 still remains on the radar and hospitals are still treating patients daily.
“The continued presence of COVID-19 combined with the rapid spread of flu and other respiratory illness poses a heightened risk of developing medical complications from COVID-19 or the flu among older Virginians, individuals with weakened immune systems or other medical conditions, and younger children,” officials wrote Monday.
The agencies offer advice to combat flu, RSV and any respiratory illnesses including getting vaccinated against flu and COVID-19.
Also, when children are sick, parents should keep the students out of school to prevent spreading the illnesses. The same logic — just like during the height of COVID-19 — applies to adults: when sick, just stay home.
“Individuals with symptoms, or those who test positive, are encouraged to contact their healthcare providers to determine the treatment option that is right for them,” officials said Monday in the news release. “This is especially true for high-risk individuals.”
Mirroring another pandemic mainstay, washing hands for at least 20 seconds can go a long way to prevent flu spread.